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The Chase (1966)
In same ways it feels like a melodramatic masterpiece that just missed its mark
The Chase (1966)
I give this movie extra credit for ambition, and for richness of story and complexity. It's a torrid soap opera overall, which is a good thing because it is saved by its romanticized excesses. The title is odd, in a way, because the obvious "chase" here is the pursuit of the convict on the run (played by Robert Redford, and not his best performance). But in a way there are all kinds of other chases herewomen and men wanting each other with a whole network of adultery and would-be affairs at play.
But never quite shown. This is a movie pushing the end of the censorship code, but the code is still officially in place and so there are still some boundaries, even for a director like Arthur Penn, who would help New Hollywood blossom (notably with "Bonnie and Clyde" the next year). But the steamy background as this small town wrestles with decency, among other things, is great stuff.
Decency, as a core idea, is what the main character is all aboutthe sheriff played by Marlon Brando. Brando is great. He isn't quite the Texas sheriff intended, of course (he's "Brando"), but he has nuance and strength, and he helps his scenes a lot. But the movie is brimming with talent: Robert Duvall, for one. Two women do their partsJane Fonda and Angie Dickinsonthough neither is given enough to do besides support their male counterparts (Fonda is a kind of "loose woman" and Dickinson is a girlfriend having affairs).
But Penn is the biggest talent, pulling together a very complicated story in two hours. Photographer Joseph LaShelle is great, too, one of the masters of early widescreen color in the US. Together they make this movie fluid, beautiful, and constantly demanding in the best way.
What holds it back is a little of the superficiality that is so common in early 60s filmsit's about sensation and effect, about drama for its own sake. You never quite care about Redford in his run (he's a surprisingly small part of the movie until the end). And even all the other characters working out their prejudices are a bit on the surface.
There is a welcome racial theme here, and a generational one (young people utterly selfish and party hungry in this version, and older folk filled with prejudice and greed). I say see this film. There's a lot going on, and I could watch it a second time just for everything I missed.
Seven Sisters (2017)
Really good overall, with Rapace impressive and fun in seven roles!
What Happened to Monday
Most futuristic movies seem to push what is possible, and this is no exception. That seven sisters are hiding in a world where everyone is individually tracked and no siblings are allowed makes for a bit of fun implausibilitybut it stretches the limits from the get go.
Still, the fact that one actressNoomi Rapaceplays all seven parts, each deliberately distinctive, is pretty fun and amazing. And sometimes over the topthe seven personalities are radically different in caricatured ways. But so what? It's fiction, and a loose version of a dystopian future that is believable enough to fly in a movie.
And there are enough twists and surprises to keep anyone awake and alert, many of them plausible once the overall setup is accepted. That is, the game of taking on roles, and of deception all around, is interesting and well done. The complications get more and more intriguing, and the surround cast is solid and well chosen. Glenn Close and Willem Dafoe and both great but in limited appearances. This is Rapace's movie.
I say give this a go and let it entertain. And eventually sway you and suck you in. It's a convincing collaborative effort.
A Civil Action (1998)
Quiet, solid, easy to miss, easy to skip, but Travolta is excellent
A Civil Action (1999)
John Travolta holds this decent but routine film up pretty well, acting as the heroic and sacrificing lawyer for an environmental case in Massachusetts. The plot is restrained, not the heart-tugging Erin Brokovich kind of spin on the same idea, and it deserves some credit for taking the reality of it seriously, including the ending.
The photography may not seem notable at first, but in fact there is a quiet stead restraint and beauty to the way the film is seen, as well. A few camera shots, moving around a sculpture, or through a room toward Travolta, are stunning once you realize the trickery going on (moving and zooming at the same time, but subtly). And Connie Hall (the cinematographer) talks about how he found a somber palette for the color that stays consistent all through.
The director, Steven Zaillain, is more of a writer, though he has "Searching for Bobby Fischer" to his great credit. And I think the material and stellar actors involved here could have been twisted into a great, classic movie. But it doesn't make it. The pace and the intensity are sometimes just off. Even the scenes of desperation and anger in the law office have the feeling of imitation and of acting a little too hard.
Look for small roles by Kathy Bates, Harry Dean Stanton, and James Gandolfini. And of course Robert Duvall as the "bad" guy, as well as John Lithgow as the judge. But mostly look for an under-appreciated John Travolta here. Well done.
Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
A surprisingly funny wartime romance
Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
Well, a Cary Grant movie I haven't seen!
The movie is limited, for sure, but Cary Grant is at his funniest. Watch it for him.
Oh, yes, Ginger Rogers is the female lead, and she's her likable self (minus the dancing). The overall plot is skewed (for good reason) by World War II. A trifle. But we have Nazi nonsense upsetting a hearty American romance in Europe. Including a clock where the hands are a swastika.
This is the same period and historical truth as "Casablanca," which of course takes it all much furtherbetter writing, better photography, more romantic. The backdrop of the war here is often quite tragic, but there is no tragedy for the leads, who are affected but keep going. There is even what looks like some real Hitler footage (not sure how they got it contemporaneously). The humor throughout is pointed but certainly floating above the real awfulness.
The overall plot (the large arc) is an entertaining take with serious overtones on the war and the enemies we were facing, as well as the fate of Jews (already clear by 1942). The movie ends up being largely a series of little scenes and funny gagsmany of which are so funny they make it worth it. But overall the movie deserves some slapping down for not trying very hard. And it deserves watching because it's so good and warm and funny in so many parts. Besides, it's a Cary Grant romance out of nowhere. Good!
Miss Sloane (2016)
A fun fast ride through contemporary political lobbying
Miss Sloane (2016)
A hyped up political "thriller" that showcases Jessica Chastain as a lobbiest who is always one step ahead of her peers. And enemies. It becomes a game of wits and tricks, with the viewer led astray by normal gullibility.
It's fun, and it clicks along with increasing drama. Chastain at first might seem a little miscast not quite hard headed enough to be so cunning and heartlessbut it settles in eventually. Her invimcibility (at first) is not credible, I suppose, but this is a fictional wild ride through what is probably a shabby world of bribes and begging between lobbyists and politicians. The underlying points about gun control are feel-good for gun control types, but a bit thin in their development.
We never really learn what drives this woman, though a couple of hints suggest a nasty past. It's probably okay that it avoid sentiment on that score, but it makes all her machinations plot driven instead of motivated from within. Director John Madden has a resume of t.v. productions and a few movies that have an obvious hook to them ("Marigold Hotel") and you get the sense that this is designed to be clever and entertaining above all. No depths here, in psychology, in political critique, or in movie-making.
Which is fine. Well done. It does exactly what it wants to do.
The Locket (1946)
Very solid melodrama, well filmed, great pace
The Locket (1946)
Well, when you have a post-war movie with Robert Mitchum at his young prime, you can't go wrong.
The star (or starlet, as they used to say) is actress Laraine Day playing Nancy, and she pulls off a charming, attentive, smart perfect woman. A bride to be, in fact. The movie starts with people arrive to a high class wedding. Mitchum shows up via flashback (classic film noir stuff). In fact, there is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback (4 levels) and it's sort of fun.
There are some great lines like, "If you'e lucky you can afford to be nice." But some of the dialog, and maybe the plot overall, is a hair stiff at times.
Director John Brahm is not well known, but his "Hangover Square" the year before is really great. And this one shows a consistent sense of storytelling and drama with highs and lows if not always fully developed characters. The key character is Nancy, who uses her charm to win over the audience as well as the men around her in the plot. Day plays her role perfectlyswiveling sweetness against a just perceptible insincerity. She's a terrific liar.
Which brings me back to Mitchum, who is good but seems to be reading rehearsed lines too often. I think there was supposed to be chemistry between Day and Mitchum, but it wasn't there, even though they both look terribly good.
Though it has a noir-like flavor, this strikes me as a straight up melodrama overall, and with soaring music and lots of dramatic lighting there is no way to not get absorbed in it. There are some short but well done scenes of London during the war (bombs and blackouts).
A well done and lesser known good one. And a fun curiositythe crazed music box music that denotes an uneven state of mind is the same as that used in the "Bad Seed."
Panic in Year Zero! (1962)
Tries to be realistic in a one-on-one American Family way...some good stuff
Panic in Year Zero! (1962)
The Baldwins are on their way camping in the California mountains when they see that L.A. has been hit by atomic bombs. That's the first exciting five minutes of the movie and the whole premise. What does an "ordinary" family do when the Soviets bomb us?
Ray Milland is the dad, and he's good and forceful, taking on a father role with a combination of extreme resolve and civilized goodness. When I say extreme I mean that he's not always to civilized, and that's maybe the crux of the best of this moviegood people going bad. There is very little of what truly good people might do in this situation (I imagine there is a lot of generosity as well as panic and selfish survivalism).
This was a fairly low budget affair, and B-movie king Roger Corman says that director Milland wasn't really up to the job, and it shows. It's often clumsy, and there is some awkward editing that must have come from lacking material in the three week shoot. It is, however, the most direct and sensational of the series of great films made in the early 60s about the coming of nuclear war ("On the Beach" is my favorite, but "Bedord Incident" and "Fail-Safe" are great, too, not to mention the singular "Dr. Strangelove.")
The first third of this film is mostly about the actual panic, and it's not a bad rendition of the small towns and deluge of desperate people (and carslots of classics). The rest of the movie is the actual survival camping and the running into dangers in the wilderness (human ones) is a slow building of despair.
Frankie Avalon, the singer, is a young star, and he's fine here. Mostly this is Milland's show, though, showing wisdom and authority in a male-dominant way that a bit tiring, even if the 60s were still a time where men were supposedly making the decisions (the truth was different, we know).
The ending, which I won't give away, is an interesting take on the early 60s, and how our view of the government and the army have changed. At least for some people.
A truly flawed movie with some truly interesting aspects that ill be interesting for decades to come.
The Big Clock (1948)
Never mind the clock--it's the sundial, stupid!
The Big Clock
I'm not a big fan of Ray Milland, the leading man here, but he has energy and pulls off a kind of Jimmy Stewart fellow pretty well. I am, for sure, a big fan of two other actors here, Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, who are great, and of the cinematographer, John Seitz. It is Seitz who makes this movie launch and go far, right from the get go, with a really nice establishing shot merging into a moving camera interior scene.
Milland is not bad, of coursehe's better in normal dramatic roles like his most famous as an alcoholic in "The Lost Weekend"but he lacks both the everyman ease of Stewart and the troubled dramatic noir intensity of Bogart or Mitchum. His predicament opens the movie, ominously, in classic noir fashion with voice-over, and within a heartbeat we are in a flashback getting to the backstory.
The little trick of the plot (having the main characters involved in a crime solving magazine) is great fun, actually, and never seems contrived. The title however points to a weird quirk in the whole works, a highly elaborate clock that is sort of forced onto the situation, and really isn't very integral to the plot after all (even if it's used dramatically a couple of times). Mostly this is a noir about a fairly normal guy and a crime he ends up having to solve, a la Hitchcock.
The femme fatale here, Maureen O'Sullivan, is great, and Laughton is his quirky self, with mustache. Look for Harry Morgan ("Dragnet" and "Mash") in a weird fun role.
Mostly just enjoy a well constructed, offbeat noir-ish crime film and the great visuals throughout.
Covers some familiar "captive female" territory with professionalism, nothing more
An interesting movie with some "dumb" aspects, like many horror films. The good part is how we see the villain (with multiple personalities) is slowly revealed through videos and a therapist. It's unlikely, of course, but actor James McAvoy makes it vivid and fun. And believable in the movie.
The three teenage girls are made to be mostly clichés (one of them much less so) and in case you are wondering, yes, they end up miserable and in their underwear by the end of the movie. This is a horrible shame because it cheapens the whole thing, and the complexity of the McAvoy's character makes it unnecessary. I'm also tired of movies where innocent females are imprisoned by crazy men, with all the ugly power trips and sexual fear involved.
There are some slightly superhuman aspects that get revealed (I think writer/director Shyamalan probably thought this was "really cool" and if you wonder about him, go see some interviews on youtube). It's fun, of course, but to me not the brilliant inventive movie some others have said.
If you know any of Shyamalan's other films, you might quickly characterize this one as a lesser one (like "The Village") and by that you'll know that there are some really fluid, beautiful aspects to the movie, and some conceptual flaws that get in the way. But still enjoyable entertainment, so weight it accordingly.
Alias Nick Beal (1949)
The fable of Faust in post-War pseudo-noir America
Alias Nick Beal (1949)
A nice discovery! I'd never heard of this film, though I pride myself on following the noirs that are out there (mostly on TCM these days, having used up all the DVD released films). If you start with some doubt in the overly dramatic beginning credits (lightning, rain, and a Waxman score that is over the top), don't quit. We get a classic noir voice over by leading man Ray Milland, and then we're in the classic noir milieus.
Thomas Mitchell is at first the main man, and he's great in his inimitable way (though always better in supporting roles). And other character actors fill in the scenes as we see a man ready to run for governor and a whirlwind of corruption and wheeling around him. This doesn't sound like a noir, actually, but call it a crime and suspense film. It's good, moves fast, keeps an edge.
Milland shares the lead, entering on a foggy dock as the music turns dour. Cinematographer Lionel Linden has a field day with dramatic light and atmosphere (he's most famous for "Manchurian Candidate," though see "Blue Dahlia" for starters.) And he helps a lot because the movie is otherwise a kind of clever drama. There is one trick behind it all, which I can't mention, and you might not buy into it (and it certainly makes this a weird noir, and maybe even a weird crime film). But it makes it original in all the dark interiors and night scenes.
So what makes the film not quite click? One is Milland, who is stiff and dry (as usual). The other is Mitchell, who has a wonderful ease on camera but who doesn't have the bearing of a powerful mana savvy top notch prosecutor who is being swept into high end politics. And the "trick" to it all makes it less worldly and gritty than this kind of scenario needs. It is overall a kind of Faust storythe devil tempting a good man who is willing to "sell his soul" to do the right thing.
And what of Audrey Totter, you ask? Yes, she's the usual wonderful "dame," the femme fatale with airs, in this case. Her role is too small and too restrained, however. In fact, maybe everyone is restrained, a bit, not rising to the level of the visuals, which are not a bit restrained.
That Hollywood ending? Read your Faust.